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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                           49
ing at the sound of a falling cone, the crunch of the night-
hardened snow and the low ripple of the tiny springs that
ran from under the snow.
Only before dawn did he fall asleep. He woke up
when it was quite light and around the tree under which
he had been sleeping he saw the winding imprints of a
fox's paws, and between them the long traces left by its
dragging tail.
"So that's what disturbed my sleep!" From the tracks
it was evident that the fox had prowled around, had
squatted and had prowled again. A disturbing thought
flashed through Alexei's mind. Hunters say that this
cunning animal senses the approaching death of a human
being and begins to follow him. Had this premonition
drawn this craven beast to him?
"Nonsense! How utterly absurd! Everything will be
all right," he said to cheer himself up, and going down
on his hands and knees he crawled and crawled, trying
to get away from this sinister place as fast as he could.
That day he had another stroke of luck. In a fragrant
juniper bush, the dull-grey berries of which he was pluck-
ing with his lips, he saw a strange heap of fallen leaves.
He touched the heap with his hand, but it held firm. He
began to pull the leaves away and suddenly something
pricked his finger. He guessed at once that it was a
hedgehog. It was a big, old hedgehog that had crept into
the thicket to hibernate; and to keep warm it had rolled
itself up in fallen autumn leaves. Alexei was overcome
with frenzied joy. Throughout his painful journey he had
dreamed of killing an animal or a bird. How many times
had he drawn his pistol and had taken aim at a magpie,
a jay, or a rabbit, and each time had with difficulty fought
down the desire to shoot; for he had only three bullets
left—two for the enemy, and the third for himself if
need be. He had forced himself to put the pistol away;
he could not afford to take risks.
And here a piece of meat actually fell into his hands!
Not pausing to remember that the hedgehog was accord-
ing to common belief an unclean animal he rapidly
removed the remaining leaves. The animal slept on, rolled
up, looking like a funny big bean with bristles. Alexei
killed the animal with his dirk, unrolled it, clumsily tore